Firehouse Arts Center's 2015-16 season promises eclectic mixture
By Lou Fancher
"It's a mixture, and balance is crucial," he says. "My charge is to bring shows that people love but also to bring new artists, sounds and styles that haven't been performed in the Tri-Valley," he says.
The 2015-16 season, recently announced, follows his formula, with proven favorites like bluegrass band Special Consensus and Billy Joel tribute soloist Kyle Martin lining up behind the season opening act Darlingside, an indie folk quartet of 20-somethings with a contemporary twist, the extraordinary harpist Edmar Castaneda, and Cuban singer Tito Gonzalez and his six-piece band. "We're doing more world music. We know that acoustic music works well in our venue. We've built trust in the community that everything at the Firehouse is a great show," Vogt says.
But not everything is in equal demand, and Vogt says that recognizing the likes and dislikes of the mostly baby boomer audience is a presenter's responsibility. Employed by the city of Pleasanton for 13 years (Firehouse is owned and operated by the city's Department of Parks and Community Services), Vogt says he's learned during the Firehouse's five seasons to fine-tune the selection of shows according to changing tastes and economic fluctuations that dictate cost-effective programming.
"In the past, we presented more commitment to classical music, but the community is more supportive of rock-and-roll, jazz, folk. We program in that vein."
Especially in October, there's a heavy load of music in the favored genres: Mark Hummel's Golden State Lonestar Revue blues band; solo jazz guitarist Julian Lage; Rudy Colombini and the Unauthorized Rolling Stones tribute band; Pleasanton-born multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Tony Furtado; and Castaneda and Gonzalez.
Sprinkled throughout the season, Atlanta-based sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell (Larkin Poe) and five-time Grammy-nominated Ambrosia handle the pop/rock angle, Jayme Stone re-imagines traditional North American music collected by folklorist Alan Lomax and classical piano duo Tamriko Siprashvili and Temirzhan Yerzihnov return to the Amador, among other acts. Country music has its moments in the spotlight with William Florian, former lead singer of The New Christy Minstrels; musician James Garner's return with "A Cash Country Christmas" and more. Vogt says that 42 percent of last season's shows were sellouts and the all-show average was 73 percent of capacity.
"Since our move from the Amador several years ago, the amount of programming has increased threefold. Last season was very good for us," he says.
But a speaker series at the Amador Theater isn't a carry-over.
"We honestly haven't pursued it because speakers tend to be expensive to bring in. You need a sponsor to make it viable. Working with Town Center Books however, authors are on book tours, so there's no added fees involved. We're doing a number of those events at the Amador."
Daniel Siegel will appear Sept. 17 to speak on the subject of his book, "Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain."
New this year is a film series. "We had an update to the city's cultural plan that told us there's a demand for film. I stumbled onto a "10 best thrillers list" online and came up with the theme," Vogt says.
"Thrill Rides" presents four classic independent movies: psychological thriller "The Babadook," Sci-Fi movies "Snowpiercer" and "Attack the Block" and a romantic chiller, "The One I Love." The four R-rated films will show Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.
"Everyone at the Firehouse is excited to test-drive the film series idea," says Jane Onojafe, Firehouse's publicist and guest services coordinator. "We've talked about it off and on since we opened the doors five years ago. It's going to be great for banishing the midweek doldrums."
Taking advantage of the venue's intimacy, theatrical presentations include actor and director Frank Ferrante portraying comedian Groucho Marx, Magician Alex Ramon making elephants disappear (he won't here, but he can), and Will Durst & Friends' "23rd Annual Big Fat Year End Kiss-Off Comedy Show."
Vogt says he avoids competing with Pleasanton comedy club Tommy T's by limiting stand-up comics and booking scripted, thematic comedy acts. And there's no denying the impressive ability of resident groups like Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre, placing local talent onto the Firehouse stage.
"The musicals PCRT is presenting include a Bay Area premiere I can't name yet and the April world premiere of "Enchanted April," written right here in the Bay Area," Vogt says.
To get the word out, social media campaigns and members events -- all featuring video presentations Vogt says no photo or written description can capture -- are just one more item on his busy to-do list.